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  • Clémence R. Scouten

5 tips to tackle your family history

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Many people want to work on their family history but often become discouraged when faced with the amount or complexity of work involved. And it's true that it can be a daunting task! But don't get discouraged. There are a few good tricks to help you get started and stay on track.

Family history organizing tip #1

The most important advice I can give is to make sure you parse the project into manageable "mini-projects". If you are thinking, "This summer I am going to clean out all the boxes in the attic and create full family trees for both my side and my husband's side," you are quickly going to feel completely overwhelmed. Instead, consider just tackling the boxes in the attic or just pulling the files related to one branch of your family. This is already a fair amount of work and will give you an idea of how to plan the next steps.

Family history organizing tip #2

Stay organized. Determine a system early on to manage all the paper and information that starts showing up for different family members. Whether it's manila folders, envelopes or shoe boxes, be disciplined about triage. If you don't properly organize the materials you dig up, you are quickly going to feel like you are going crazy wondering where you put Great-Uncle Joe's immigration records, Grand-Ma Sally's birth certificate and the like.

Family papers should be curated and archived.

Family history organizing tip #3

Stay focused on your goals. This is a similar tip to #1 above. It is very easy to get distracted when researching family history or tidying up boxes with materials so old you had forgotten their very existence. Walking down memory lane can be pleasurable but it can also be a significant distraction.

If your goal is to publish a book with stories and photos of family members, make sure you mark the items (with a post-it note or by setting them aside) so that you can keep track visually of your progress. On the other hand, if your goal is only to organize the materials, pick out nice boxes where everything will go, and keep imagining how nice everything will look when it's filed away properly.

Family history organizing tip #4

Have fun! Working on your family history will bring back many memories of people and times past. Embrace it. Take the opportunity to reach out to a relative you haven't spoken to in a while to reminisce about a shared experience in your family history. You may be surprised how differently you both remember the same event or how the conversation triggers more memories. Just try not to get sidetracked with too many social calls!

Family history organizing tip #5

Hire someone to help you with different stages of your family history project. Personal history should be fun, easy and meaningful. If you enjoy doing research on family members but organizing files is deeply boring, get some help! Not everyone enjoys the same kind of work. That's ok! Punishing yourself with tasks you find dreary will take away from the pleasure of the overall project.

There are many different kinds of family history projects you can undertake. You can make a family tree, or write stories about family members. You can research the jobs people had or the places where your ancestors are from. But any of these will be very hard to do without having organized your family history materials.

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